River Cities

Proposed aquatic center, Curtiss Mansion top Miami Springs council agenda

The first regular Miami Springs council meeting in seven weeks, last Monday, Aug. 11, was packed with “clean-up” business from the time off. But there were budget issues discussed, like the proposed $35,000 donation to the Curtiss Mansion and the funding for the $5 million aquatic center project.

The council will vote at a future budget meeting as to the donation to the Curtiss Mansion, but there had been questions at the workshop the week before about Curtiss Mansion Inc. (CMI) not doing enough for the community to warrant the funds.

Councilmen Billy Bain and Jaime Petralanda had grilled CMI president and former Miami Springs mayor Richard Wheeler at the previous meeting on the finances of CMI and why they could not turn a profit.

Bain had been upset about the lack of information the council regularly gets from CMI and Petralanda wanted to expand the number of “free” events the city can host at the Mansion. Both issues were addressed in detail on Monday night.

With Wheeler in the audience, longtime CMI director and former councilwoman JoEllen Morgan-Phillips took to the stand for an oratory, lauding the efforts of CMI and listing in detail activities that take place during the year at the Curtiss Mansion.

“We are pretty busy most of the time, preparing for events, having functions, writing grants, etc. Many events are open to the public and some we lost money,” said Morgan-Phillips. “We have hosted many meetings for Miami-Dade County, including one for the county’s Canine Unit.

“We have been having yoga classes there twice a week and we don’t charge for them. Camp Invention a couple of weeks ago was a big success and brought many people from places like Boca Raton and Pinecrest to Miami Springs. We are not just a place for weddings and quinces. 

“We are already booking into 2016 and becoming a ‘destination’ for weddings. We are becoming an economic engine and have gone way over the number of ‘freebies’ in our contract with the city. Please don’t restrict us any more and just leave the contract alone,” continued Morgan-Phillips.

Petralanda had requested that the contract with CMI be expanded from the seven “free” events now allowed to 15 as a way of rewarding the residents for the $35,000 donation. He wanted to open it up so the high school could hold its prom there and reduce the costs for the students.

“We need to reward the residents by allowing them to use the Curtiss Mansion. We are giving CMI $35,000 and this will help justify that cost. Allowing the schools to save money by using the Mansion would be a benefit to the community,” said Petralanda.

Mayor Zavier Garcia quickly shut down Petralanda’s argument by saying, “We are required to treat everyone the same because CMI receives money from the county. We would have to open it up to all schools, and besides that, a majority of students at the high school are NOT Miami Springs residents.”

The idea to change the CMI contract was not even voted on, but it was clear Morgan-Phillips’ words had an impact.

“What JoEllen just said is justification for the $35,000 but I don’ know why it has taken so long to get this kind of information,” said Bain. “CMI has always presented itself as exclusive and elite, and not forthcoming with information.”

Before moving on to the pool project, Councilman George Lob chimed in with, “It’s great you (JoEllen) told us about all the things you do there because we did not know!”

The construction of the new aquatic center at the Community Center took two more steps toward completion at Monday’s meeting, as the proposed two-story, 14,000-square-foot accompanying building became two one-story buildings. The $5.66 million in funding also was conceptually approved.

Jorge Ferrer, a partner in the pool design/consulting firm Bermello Ajamil & Partners, made a presentation on the latest thinking for the aquatic center layout. Now, they were proposing two 5,000-square-foot buildings with a “breezeway” in between.

The multi-purpose building would be on the west side of the pool that will be constructed at the north end of the Community Center parking lot. The pool building would be between the pool and the Community Center.

“This would eliminate the need for an elevator and stairs; and since there will be no competitive swimming there is no need for an observation deck,” Ferrer said during his Power Point presentation. “There would be a 4,000-square-foot reduction in building and a cost savings.”

Since the groundbreaking for the aquatic center is not expected until early 2015, it was important that the funding went along with that time frame. The council unanimously approved, conceptually, a loan with SunTrust Bank that did just that.

SunTrust was offering up to $5.66 million and terms that allow Miami Springs to lock into an interest rate anytime in the next 90 days or wait until three days before closing, expected to be around Dec. 15, 2014.  The fact that Miami Springs can get out of this funding deal at any time at no cost made it a “no-brainer.”

Ferrer closed his presentation by announcing that there will be two community meetings on the pool on Friday, Aug. 23 and he invited residents to attend. The first will be at the Community Center (1401 Westward Drive) at noon on Friday, Aug. 23. The second, on the same day, will be in council chambers at City Hall (201 Westward Drive) at 7 p.m. 

In other news, the council: